The people behind the Oscars: what is the Academy?
Board of governors to discuss Will Smith at emergency meeting following on-stage attack
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has launched a formal investigation into Will Smith’s attack on Chris Rock at Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony.
The institution behind the annual awards show is in the spotlight after Smith was allowed to return to his seat in the audience after slapping presenter Rock on stage, before being handed the Best Actor prize.
Amid criticism over the Academy’s decision not to send in security, a spokesperson told Variety that the organisation condemned Smith’s actions and had “officially started a formal review around the incident”. According to the magazine, the King Richard star “may face some type of disciplinary action or sanction, though it’s unlikely he will be made to forfeit his prize”.
Smith issued a public apology to Rock on Instagram just hours after slapping the ceremony host in response to a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, that referenced her shaved head. Pinkett Smith revealed last year that she was struggling with alopecia.
Despite Smith’s online apology, the row over the attack “will not be fading away quietly”, said The Hollywood Reporter. The outburst is expected to be “topic number one” at an emergency meeting of the Academy’s board of governors called for tomorrow night, the entertainment site reported.
The real-life drama at this year’s awards is the latest in a string of controversies faced by the board. In fact, the “once fondly regarded institution” now seems to “aggravate audiences whatever it does”, said the Financial Times’ chief film writer Danny Leigh. “Not diverse enough for some, too diverse for others... Too escapist, not escapist enough” – the Academy “faces spleen from all directions”.
Who is in the Academy?
The number of Academy members is thought to be in the region of 9,750. Membership is limited to people working in film production across 17 different categories, including acting, casting, cinematography and costume design.
People in the film industry become members through sponsorship, rather than application, and candidates need to be backed by two existing members. First-time Oscar nominees are given automatic membership consideration without sponsorship, however.
The ultimate decision of whether to accept a new member is made by the board of governors, who meet six to eight times a year. David Rubin, a veteran casting director, is president of the Academy and has has eight vice-presidents.
Board members can serve up to two three-year terms. Following at least a two-year hiatus, they can then serve two further three-year terms.
The most recent additions to the board include producers Donna Gigliotti, who won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love; David Linde, who got an Oscar nomination for Arrival; and DeVon Franklin and Jennifer Todd.
Members of the actors branch of the governors includes Laura Dern, Whoopi Goldberg and Rita Wilson.
In addition to the board of governors and thousands of members, more than 400 members of staff conduct the Academy’s day-to-day business, overseen by CEO Dawn Hudson.
Where is Oscars HQ?
The Academy is headquartered at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard Beverly Hills in California. The Oscars HQ is also home to the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, a 1,000-seat cinema where blockbuster films including Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Moulin Rouge! and 127 Hours have premiered.
For the last two decades, the Oscars ceremony has usually been held at the 3,300-seat Dolby Theatre, located in an enormous shopping and entertainment complex in central Hollywood.
How does the voting process work?
Each member only votes on their branch’s categories at the nomination stage – so for example, “editors nominate editors, actors nominate for the four acting categories”, explained Variety’s awards editor Tim Gray. But “everyone gets to nominate Best Picture” and “for the final voting of the winner, all branches vote for everything”.
For the highly coveted Best Picture prize, the Academy uses a “preferential voting” system, where voters put their choices in order of preference, rather than just selecting their favourite. Some critics have slated this system, on the basis that a film could end up winning because it is overwhelmingly popular as a second, rather than first, choice.
A few weeks after the nominations are announced, all members can cast votes in any category, although they’re discouraged from voting in categories about which they have little knowledge. Again, the preferential voting system is used.
The winners are kept secret right up until their names are read out by the ceremony presenters on the big night. And only two people know who all the gongs are going to in advance.
Two accountants from PricewaterhouseCoopers are tasked each year with tallying up all the votes. But the system can go wrong.
In 2017, then Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs vowed never to work with that year’s accounting duo again, after a mix-up led to La La Land incorrectly being named as the Best Picture winner rather than the real victor, Moonlight.